Morton man’s mission of remembrance

Classmate dedicates memorial for fallen Vietnam soldier.

On the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., one of the more than 58,000 inscribed names of those who died in that conflict is Steve Goelz of Morton. Now, 41 years after Goelz died when his Huey helicopter he was piloting was shot down, his sacrifice for country is being remembered by a fellow classmate and Vietnam veteran Purple Heart recipient, Dave Mude. Through Mude’s efforts, a memorial dedication honoring Goelz was held at the city park in Morton on July 4. “This tribute to recognize one of our heroes is appropriate and long overdue…it’s time,” said Mude. The story between Goelz and Mude is a shared connection of dates that are near mirror images of each other. The two young men grew up as classmates and graduated in a class of 28 from Morton High School in 1967, but there were a lot of other similar things about them Dave didn’t realize until he started his research for the memorial project. Dave was born on July 15, 1949, in Springfield and Steve on July 18 at Sleepy Eye. Both men were drafted into the Army and Dave was sent to Vietnam on Jan. 1, 1970. Nearly nine months later, Steve went to Vietnam on Aug. 29, 14 days after marrying his wife, Judith Kohout. Dave was wounded near the A-Shau Valley on April 24, 1970, and was discharged on Feb. 19, 1971. A few days later, Steve was killed in the chopper crash on Feb. 23, 1971. “I went to Steve’s funeral in Bechyn, and I remember it just like yesterday when I stood in the aisle of a church full of people…but it’s strange that I can’t recall what my reaction was to his death. It was the first killed in action funeral I’d attended…I was 21 years-old,” he said. Coming Home Coming home as a Vietnam veteran was not easy for Mude. “Many of us were treated like nobody knew you…I couldn’t get a job,” he recalled. “I remember going to the lumberyard in town three times before I got hired, the third time I went back there on my knees asking for the job.” Like other Vietnam veterans who survived a tour of duty, Mude struggled when he returned. “A number of vets I knew just kind of disappeared wanting to forget about all of that war stuff.” Yet, Mude was able to join the local American Legion, and for the past 10 years, he has been the post commander in Morton. Mude, who has suffered from bouts of post traumatic stress disorder, said a lot of his healing has come since he joined the Patriot Guard Riders (PGR) organization. “It was several years ago when our Legion was part of the honor guard for Sgt. Brent Koch of Franklin who was killed in Iraq,” recalled Mude. “The funeral was held in Morgan, and I can remember seeing about 200 motorcyclists riding into town all with flags on their bikes and wondering what this was all about,” Mude said. “That night I told my wife Jan I was getting a motorcycle and joined the next day,” he said. As an active member of the Patriot Guards, Mude has since attended numerous PGR missions for funerals, deployments and welcome home events for soldiers. “Our motto is to never forget and show honor, dignity and respect to those protecting our country and their families…we Vietnam veterans didn’t have that kind of support,” he noted. Mude has traveled with the Patriot Guard in recent years to funerals of long deceased veterans who’ve only recently been identified through DNA test matches. In 2008 a sailor who died on the USS Oklahoma that was sunk at the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 was buried 67 years later at Clarkfield. “We also were at another for a Korean veteran from Braham who was buried 60 years later and two Vietnam veterans who were identified through DNA and came home 44 years later,” he stated. The Memorial Riding with the Patriot Guard inspired Mude’s quest to remember Goelz. “By going to these funerals for KIAs, veterans of WW II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq…the sendoffs, welcome homes – it all must have come together in my mind to do something for Steve,” explained Mude. “One morning I woke up and I thought there are memorials all over for veterans of these wars and there’s no reason why Steve shouldn’t have one too. “It’s time for people to find out and for those that do know to remember Steve and all others in the military that have served or lost their lives,” he said. Even Mude was surprised to learn that at least a dozen other men from surrounding towns of Morton lost their lives in Vietnam and he said the memorial is for them too. “Many times our fallen soldiers are remembered only for a period of time, and as time goes by and generations pass, the sacrifices made are minimized or forgotten,” Mude commented. “The monument that we’re placing for Steve who grew up in this community, is a reminder of his ultimate sacrifice as well as all of the other fallen brothers and sisters.” Plans for the memorial started last fall and finally came together this spring. The memorial stone comes from northern Minnesota and has an original design showing an engraved likeness of a uniformed Goelz, a helicopter flying over his head with a map of Vietnam along with an inscription. In his mind’s eye, Mude was particular in what he wanted to be placed on the memorial. He contacted a local artist and fellow Vietnam veteran Glen Goodthunder who donated his talents to draw the picture. After two attempts, Mude approved of Goodthunder’s revised work for the memorial that was funded by the Morton Legion at a cost of $4,000 earned from 4th of July beer stand proceeds. It was unveiled during Morton’s July 4 celebration with the Patriot Guard and members of the Goelz family in attendance. One Man’s Mission Mude has traveled extensively with the Patriot Guard, putting 20,000 miles on his motorcycle. “My wife is usually with me 99 percent of the time and on every mission you get different reactions as to how families respond to us,” he said. “It’s all very gratifying, you get something personally out of it each time.” He is pleased that what started as an idea to honor Goelz has been finished. “What I gave to this project I got back in return. I thank all that have helped, and I know Steve is looking down at the monument that should have been done a long time ago. “So, it all feels good and helps me with my Vietnam experience too…I’ve been over there, back here now and I’m working on that.”

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